Sausalito Historical Society
In the weeks following the June 6, 1944, invasion of Europe the Sausalito News carried many reports on the exploits of local boys who participated in D-day and subsequent fighting. One in particular stands out.
A July 6 article stated: “One of Sausalito’s most promising sons, Corporal Francis Milani, who dropped behind enemy lines on June 5 with the sensationally brave and reckless paratroopers leading the invasion forces, is reported missing in action, according to word sent by the War Department to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. James Milani, 21 Girard Ave., early this week. Corp. Milani got through D-day but has been missing since June 6.
A graduate of St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, young Milani had completed two years at U.S.F. when he left to join the army and later to become a paratrooper. Since the War Department’s grim message, the Milanis have received four letters from their son, one of which was written on the night of June 4, eve of invasion.”
Young Frank had starred in youth baseball in the 30s and was in the New York Yankees farm system in 1940 before enlisting in the service.
But his life dramatically changed after that.
In December, 1944, Milani’s frantic parents received some welcome reassurance, according to the News: “The grandest Christmas present they could possibly have asked for was received last week by Mr. and Mrs. James Milani … a letter from their son, Cpl. Francis Milani, from a prison camp in Germany. Young Francis was reported missing in action just after the invasion of Europe, June 6. He was among the first waves of invading paratroopers that led the invasion on D-day and the subsequent message which the Milanis received from the War Department was indeed grim. But the veil of suspense was lifted last week when they opened a much censored envelope to find the following message inside: ‘Dear Pop and Mom: By now I hope that you got at least one of my letters. Things here in camp are OK now. My health is good. Please take good care of yourselves, too. I know I’m going to see you soon. We all know that here in camp. All my love, Your son, Francis.’
Another letter, written the same day and sent to his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Folli, says: ‘Dear Folks; Just a couple of lines to let you know that I’m OK. Things are much better now than they were before. The Red Cross is taking good care of me. I pray for the day when I will be able to see you all again. Give Joanne (his cousin and Godchild) a kiss for me. Love, Francis.’
”That prayer is soon to be answered,” the Sun reported on April 19, 1945 — about three weeks before V-E Day.
“The young man escaped last month and is on his way home, after an internment of nearly ten months in southeastern Germany. A War Department telegram was received by his family, Mr. and Mrs. James Milani, several weeks ago. Last week, Corporal Milani telephoned his mother, telling her that he was on the last stretch of the homeward journey.
Nearly 27 years ago, his dad was homeward bound after the same sort of experience, also at the hands of the Germans. He was captured while serving with the Italian army and was interned in Austria until his liberation by the Allies.”
Upon returning to Marin, Frank Milani became a car salesman for much of his life. A member of the Native Sons of the Golden West since before the War, he was president of the local chapter when he died in 1997 at the age of 88.
As a coda to this story, here’s a Sausalito News editorial from August 1944:
“There are 495 names on Sausalito’s Honor Roll.
“The names glint in the sun as you pass the little plaza. Some of the young owners who answered to them will not look at daylight again. On that list are boys who gave up their lives in the fight; there are boys now reported missing in action. They flew over battlefields; they slugged up the Normandy beaches on D-day; they were in torpedoed submarines and drowned when their ship exploded. At least one of those boys was on Bataan when they starved and went wild-eyed with fever. He’s there now. a prisoner of the crudest enemy on earth; others on that list parachuted into German battlegrounds. They are Sausalito’s sons and they are enrolled in the tragic, inspired, terrible battalion now fighting to the death. On November 11, 1943 this city dedicated an Honor Roll to her sons in service. With song, with music and tall brave words, the rites were said. It is time now to rededicate our Honor Roll—to take note of the record boys from this town have made. It is time to match their gift with blood. They have copiously spilled theirs; we can safely offer ours. On Friday, August 18, and on Saturday, August 19, the Red Cross Mobile Unit visits this city and will take donors to the Procurement Center in San Rafael. Make it a Sausalito Day. Remember the boys who are giving so much; rededicate our honor roll with a service that counts: rededicate it with blood.”
That honor roll was rededicated again on Saturday, May 21, 2016, at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It remains on display at the Sausalito Historical Society’s Marinship display at the Bay Model Visitors Center.